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Boeing and Airbus: 40 years of rivalry and one-upmanship – Part two

Continuing the story on the forty year old rivalry between Airbus and Boeing from yesterday, we pick up the rivalry from the mid 1980s till date.

Kingfisher Airlines Airbus A330-200 VT-VJK Bangalore AviationFollowing the success of the A320, Airbus next introduced the four engined A340 and twin-engine A330 mid-sized aircraft in 1987. While the A340 was designed to compete in the long distance over-water intercontinental routes, Airbus intended the A330 to compete directly in the ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operation Performance Standards) market, i.e. the Boeing 767, but airlines purchased it to replace the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 since the A330 is 38% more fuel efficient. The A330’s fuselage and wings are virtually identical to the A340 thus offering a common rating for both aircraft a’la Boeing 767/757. Both the A340 and A330 borrow heavily from the A320 fly-by-wire and flightdeck, thus offering airlines the ability to move pilots between the narrow and wide-bodies with minimal training, again like the Boeing 767/757. The A340 was not as successful the A330 was. Singapore_Airlines_A340-500_9V-SGEBy the end of May 2009 a total of 1,021 aircraft of the A330 have been ordered (557 A330-200, 65 A330-200F and 399 A330-300) and 616 delivered (346 A330-200 and 270 A330-300) while a total of 385 A340s had been ordered (28 A340-200, 218 A340-300, 35 A340-500 and 104 A340-600) and 365 delivered (28 A340-200, 218 A340-300, 29 A340-500 and 90 A340-600). It is Singapore Airlines with an A340-500 that still holds the record for the world’s longest non-stop commercial flight between Newark Liberty airport, USA and Singapore Changi.

Boeing responded the best way it could; by introducing the world’s largest twin-engined jet the 777, commonly referred to as the “Triple Seven”. Initially conceived as a triple engined jet to compete with the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and MD-11 and the Lockheed L1011 Tristar, the 777 can carry between 283 and 368 passengers in a three-class configuration and has a range from 5,235 to 9,380 nautical miles (9,695 to 17,372 km). Designed to bridge the capacity difference between the 767 and 747, the original 777-200 model first entered service in 1995 with United Airlines, and was stretched by 33.3 ft (10.1 m) as the 777-300 introduced in 1998. The 777-300ER (Extended Range) and 777-200LR (Long Range) variants entered service in 2004 and 2006, respectively, while a freighter version, the 777F, first flew in 2008. It’s ease of use, passenger comfort, and operating economics have made it a favourite of airlines, and the 777 has blow the bottom out of the Airbus A340. With 77 777s, Singapore Airlines operates the largest 777 fleet of any airline, but will soon be passed by Emirates airlines. In total, 56 customers have placed orders for 1,107 777s, with 784 delivered as of May 31, 2009.

The Boeing 737 is the best selling commercial airliner of all time, with the 6,000th aircraft being delivered very recently. Goaded by the runaway success of the modern Airbus A320 Boeing initiated development of an updated series of 737, now called the 737 Classic, with the 737 Next Generation or Next Gen (737NG) program encompassing the -600, -700, -800 and -900 was announced on November 17, 1993. The first NG, the 2,843rd 737 built, to roll out was a -700, on December 8, 1996. The 737NG is essentially a new aircraft retaining important commonality from previous 737 models. The wing area is increased by 25% and span by 16 ft (4.9 m), which increased the total fuel capacity by 30%. Coupled with the new, quieter, fuel-efficient CFM56-7B engines range is increased by 900 NM. Boeing also bridged the generational gap with the A320 bringing in the full “glass cockpit” with six LCD screens and modern avionics. The passenger experience was also spruced up with improvements similar to those on the Boeing 777, featuring more curved surfaces and larger overhead bins. To compete with the A321 on April 27, 2007, Boeing delivered the first of the newest 737 variant, the 737-900ER, to launch customer Lion Air. Seating capacity is increased to 180 passengers in a 2-class configuration or 215 passengers in a single-class layout. Additional fuel capacity and standard winglets improve range to that of other 737NG variants. SpiceJet is the largest operator of the 737-900ER in India followed by Jet Airways.

On 19 December 2000, Airbus decided to end the three decade old monopoly of the Boeing 747 jumbo jet and formally launched the largest passenger aircraft in the world, the Airbus A380 superjumbo. The A380’s upper deck extends along the entire length of the fuselage, which allows for a cabin with 50% more floor space than the next-largest airliner, the Boeing 747-400 and provides seating for 525 people in standard three-class configuration or up to 853 people in all economy class configurations. Most airlines have outfitted their A380s with uber-luxurious first class private suites, one even offering on-board showers. The first A380, serial number MSN001 and registration F-WWOW, was unveiled at a ceremony in Toulouse on January 18, 2005. Its maiden flight took place at 08:29 UTC (10:29 a.m. local time) April 27, 2005. The first aircraft delivered (MSN003, registered 9V-SKA) was handed over to launch customer Singapore Airlines on 15 October 2007 and entered commercial service on 25 October 2007 with an inaugural flight between Singapore and Sydney (flight number SQ380). Emirates was the second airline to take delivery of the A380 on 28 July 2008 and Qantas followed on 19 September 2008.

Major structural sections of the A380 are built in France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Due to their size, they are brought to the assembly hall in Toulouse in France by surface transportation which in the logistics world is considered a work of art. The front and rear sections of the fuselage are loaded on the Airbus Roll-on/roll-off (RORO) ship, Ville de Bordeaux, in Hamburg in northern Germany, from where the ship moves to the Mostyn docks in the United Kingdom to pick up the the gigantic wings, which are manufactured at Filton in Bristol and Broughton in North Wales. In Saint-Nazaire in western France, the ship trades the fuselage sections from Hamburg for larger, assembled sections, some of which include the nose. The ship unloads in Bordeaux. The ship then picks up the belly and tail sections by Construcciones Aeronáuticas SA (CASA) in Cádiz in southern Spain, and delivers them to Bordeaux. The A380 parts are then transported by barge to Langon, and by oversize road convoys to the assembly hall in Toulouse. After assembly, the aircraft are flown to Hamburg Finkenwerder Airport (XFW) to be furnished and painted. It takes 3,600 litres (950 US gallons) of paint to cover the 3,100 m2 (33,000 sq ft) exterior of an A380.

With the loss of the VLA (Very Large Aircraft) monopoly, Boeing is focussing its future dreams on an aircraft that would replace the 767 and over-take the A330. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a mid-sized, wide-body, twin-engine jet airliner currently under gauntlet development and is expected to have its first flight before the end of this month. It will carry between 210 and 330 passengers depending on variant and seating configuration and designed to be more fuel-efficient than earlier Boeing airliners and will be the first major airliner to use composite materials for most of its construction. The 787 also features a state of the art cockpit and passenger cabin. Boeing even offers its own version of the famous Airbus cabin “mood lighting”.

Boeing featured its first 787 in a roll-out ceremony on July 8, 2007, at its Everett assembly factory, by which time it had become the fastest-selling wide-body airliner in history with nearly 600 orders. A total of 861 Boeing 787s have been ordered by 56 customers as of April 2009. Originally scheduled to enter service in May 2008 with Japan’s All Nippon Airways, production has been delayed several times and is currently scheduled to enter into service in February 2010.

In my humble opinion, the single best resource on the Dreamliner is Jon Ostrower The FlightBlogger.

After initially claiming the A330 would be able to compete with the 787 Dreamliner, the massive success of the 787 prompted Airbus to develop and announce the A350XWB (eXtra Wide Body) which will become more of a competitor to the Boeing 777 as well as some models of the Boeing 787. The A350XWB cabin is 13 cm (5.1 in) wider at eye level than the competing Boeing 787, and 28 cm (11 in) narrower than the Boeing 777, and all A350 passenger models will have a range of at least 8,000 NM (15,000 km). Like the Boeing 787, the A350XWB will make extensive use of composite materials in place of the traditional aluminium, and have a state of the art cockpit. The fuselage will be of parallel cross-section from Door 1 to Door 4 thus providing for maximum volume in the passenger cabin. The plane has till date logged 483 orders and is currently under development and scheduled to enter service in 2013, about the same time the 787-9 variant of the Dreamliner will.

and so the rivalry and one-upmanship carries on.

Please do post your views via a comment.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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